Anna Rittgers: The ACLU's attack on civil liberties

By Anna Rittgers

Published: Thursday, March 8 2012 2:38 p.m. MST

The American Civil Liberties Union's (ACLU) mission supposedly is "to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties that the Constitution and laws of the United States guarantee everyone in this country." It has fought for the free expression of religion against governmental intrusion when students are not allowed to wear rosaries in public schools or when Sikh prisoners are forced to shave their beards against their religious beliefs.

However, the ACLU's supports the Obama administration's mandate that employers provide contraception and sterilization insurance coverage free of charge to employees—despite real conflicts that policy creates with some people's religious beliefs.

It appears that ACLU believes it should always champion left-wing unity, even if it is at the expense of the Constitution it claims to defend.

The federal government cannot demand that individuals violate their religious convictions simply because Obama's HHS believes there is public interest in increasing availability of free contraception. There is no constitutional right to "free" birth control.

There is, however, a First Amendment guarantee that the government will not intrude upon the free exercise of religion, and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act prevents legislators from enacting laws that substantially burden the free exercise of religion.

Not only does the ACLU support the contraception mandate, they argue that family planning trumps the First Amendment. In a letter supporting the HHS proposed rule, they argue that, "it furthers a compelling state interest in promoting gender equality, reproductive autonomy and religious liberty," to compel employers to pay for contraception and sterilization coverage for their employees.

The ACLU supports the Obama administration in forcing people to bankroll the very things that violate the tenets of their faith. Worse of all, they are willing to disregard the First Amendment over so-called "access" to contraception and sterilization services that are already readily accessible to individuals.

This is hardly a surprising breach of the organization's original mission. Sadly, the ACLU has become a consistent advocate for the left-wing agenda at the direct expense of civil liberties. The ACLU joined the NAACP and The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights in an amicus brief supporting the Obama Administrations' position in HHS v. Florida. They argue that the individual mandate at the center of the Affordable Care Act is constitutional because the Commerce Clause allows for the federal government to enact economic regulations that limit individual liberty in order to serve the common good, even if that regulation forces individuals to purchase a service from a private entity.

In essence, the ACLU's position is that individual rights can be suppressed if Congress believes it has good reason to do so. That's some check on overbearing government.

In fact, were the Supreme Court to side with the ACLU, there would be virtually no limitations to the scope and power of the federal government. After all, if the government has the power to demand that all people purchase health insurance in order to benefit the "common good" of a shared risk pool, then it has the power to demand that all households purchase Chevy Volts for the "common good" of reduced fossil-fuel emissions. Worse still, it gives the federal government the power to deny individuals any health services it may deem unnecessary or too expensive all in the name of the "common good."

The ACLU needs to reread the Constitution. It is clear that our framers did not intend to empower the federal government to force all individuals under threat of financial penalty to buy a product or service from a private entity that they do not wish to purchase, be it health insurance, birth control or even a Chevy Volt. The rights enumerated in the Constitution protect individual liberty against government action, but as the ACLU motto says, "Freedom can't protect itself."

If the ACLU was truly an organization dedicated to protecting individual civil liberties against governmental intrusion, it would not be arguing for the expansion of federal powers at the expense of individual liberty. Instead, it would have fought alongside the Independent Women's Forum, and like us, filed an amicus brief in HHS v. Florida to support individuals' economic freedom.

Unfortunately, the actions of the ACLU show that they will defend the Constitution and civil liberties only so far as they do not interfere with the goals of the American Left.

Anna Rittgers is an attorney and Senior Fellow at the Independent Women's Forum.

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